Unsold Studio

CASE STUDY: CLD "The Crisis of Beauty"


Visually communicating "the crisis of beauty."


January 2018 to October 2018


Brand design, illustration

Project Overview

"Culture Lab Detroit is a non-profit organization that engages with local communities through creative partnerships, projects, and public dialogues to stimulate new relationships, artistic opportunities, and encourages action-oriented social exchange among a global network of artists, activists, and thinkers.” Every year, founder Jane Schulak selects a different theme for Culture Lab's series of fall events which are free and open to the public; Unsold Studio designed visuals for Walls in 2016 and Post-Truth in 2017. Unsold Studio has been the brand design team for Culture Lab Detroit since 2016. In October 2018, Culture Lab Detroit hosted two days of events in Detroit surrounding ideas of “Beauty”, specifically “the crisis of beauty”. 

Project Goals

  1. Visually communicate “the crisis of beauty"

  2. Raise awareness for and drive local, national and international attendance to Culture Lab Detroit’s 2018 Beauty events

Project Challenges

  1. Subverting the stereotypes, trends and exclusiveness surrounding ideas of “beauty” in culture

  2. Accessible for public community, as well as "art insiders" 

  3. Visual relationship to 2016 Walls and 2017 Post Truth while having a unique identity for Beauty


The story of Detroit is complex, and does not fit neatly into a romantic headline that praises the city for a “comeback” or a “revitalization”. Furthermore, narratives that one often sees in the media are often too focused on particular neighborhoods in the city, and leave others out. Yet, Detroit is indeed in a state of evolution, and there is a sensitivity to the ways in which art and design can be a catalyst for inclusive growth and economic development. Culture Lab Detroit ensured that it was “[partnering] with local community programs to forge stronger connections and [to] celebrate the work of emerging and established organizations in a public setting.” They also sought to “highlight the work of local artists and musicians,” “expand accessibility to community members of all abilities,” “invest in advertising that targets neighborhoods where programming is held to ensure that all feel welcome and informed, and ”[provide] feedback forms to each program attendee to further assist in program evaluation efforts.”

Keeping these initiatives and challenges in mind, our goal for the design was to visually communicate the concept of the “crisis of beauty” and to raise awareness to drive local, national, and international attendance to Culture Lab Detroit’s 2018 Beauty events. Because the theme of the events was to challenge traditional notions of beauty and to examine its cultural complexities, we had to create something that subverted stereotypes, trends, and any sense of exclusivity that surrounds the idea of beauty in popular culture.

At the same time, the dialogues themselves were free and inclusive, drawing both “art insiders” as well as local community members. We needed to make a visual identity system that was engaging to the art and design aficionados, but that remained accessible for the general public. While being visually compelling and sometimes eliciting a sense of discomfort, the design still had to retain a relatability and intrigue to ensure that no one felt excluded or repelled.

The 2018 dialogues exist in a series with the Culture Lab Detroit events from previous years. In 2016 the theme was Walls, and in 2017 the theme was Post-Truth. From a visual design standpoint, we ensured that The Crisis of Beauty had a visual relationship to the previous events, while demanding its own unique identity.


We blurred the lines between ugliness and beauty by disrupting, breaking, or hiding the human form. During our ideation phase, we explored the concept of masks, and experimented with collage and drawing. We also considered how technology, the media, and different cultures affects our understanding of beauty.

By combining human and animal body-parts, patterns, textures, and references to technologies, we strived to make the familiar unfamiliar and to find beauty in ugliness. Additionally, we sought to include as much variety as possible when it came to representation of race, gender, body size, age, and technology to create a holistic vision of beauty. We also wanted the “characters”, as we called them, to have a variety of perceived personalities. Some could be approachable, while others scary, for example.


A final set of twenty characters was developed and used throughout the visual assets of the Beauty events. Deliverables included, but were not limited to: digital and print invitations, digital and print posters, digital and print advertisements, promotional postcards, a direct mailer, motion graphics, website assets, social media assets, and t-shirts. Each printed asset was produced in both English and Spanish to be inclusive of the neighborhoods where the events take place, ensuring residents were aware of the program being held in their neighborhood and were welcomed to attend.


Culture Lab Detroit reports:

1,030 people participated in Culture Lab Detroit 2018 programs:

  • 227 attended The Lie that Tells the Truth

  • 179 attended Seeing and Being Seen

  • 515 attended Migguel Anggelo Performance

  • 57 attended RoboCop film screening

  • 37 tour attendees

  • 2 distinguished moderators

  • 9 internationally acclaimed artists, architects, writers, performers, activists and critical theorists

  • 2 dialogue programs

  • 2 community programs

Press Coverage:

  • 6 national journalists brought to Detroit from ArtSpace, Cool Hunting, Bust, Cultured, Culture Type, Art Agenda

  • 12 national stories focused on Detroit and 8 local stories, resulting in 105,999,248 impressions / story reach:

    • Artnet News: 1,433,000

    • Broadway World: 4,232,000

    • Blouin ArtInfo: 251,584

    • NPR: 80,780,000

    • WCAI: 104,883

    • WXPR: 25,102

    • Cool Hunting: 373,455

    • Artspace: 838,306

    • BUST: 419,153

    • Art Agenda: 5,000

    • Detroit Free Press: 12,910,000

    • Deadline Detroit: 138,676

    • Detroit Metro Times: 3,693,984 (4 articles)

    • Curbed Detroit: 511,368 (2 articles)

Social Media:

  • 136,168 eyes on CLD social media each month

  • 1,376 new followers across all platforms (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram)

  • 7% of all impressions are age 24 or under

  • 44% of all impressions are between the age of 25-34

  • 29% of all impressions are between the age of 35-44

  • 20% of all impressions are between the age of 45-65+

  • 29% of all impressions from Detroiters


The above character illustration was selected by a jury to be featured in Icon10: The Illustration Conference’s Detroit Gallery Show at Red Bull House of Art in Detroit, MI in July 2018. 

Additional Credits

Photos: Olivia Gilmore and Gabriela Baginski